Sabella & the Botany of Desire

Now, as we all know, a lack of variety in any given fruit, tuber or vegetable can leave it open to plague. Despite apparently having approached perfection, all the Golden Delicious in the world could be wiped out one swing of a giant, virulent boot, were the right formula to be found. All that is necessary is for the happy, popular, apparently indomitable fruit’s weaknesses to be found and exposed. One little worm pierces the skin and slides through to the core, guarded only by a lank-haired substitute at the second-best team in Ligue 1, in whose face it guffaws in righteous felony.

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Darkened greenhouse-haunter that you are, dear reader, you are no doubt aware the options available in the contemporary apple market leave a lot to be desired. These days we are limited to a risible two or three possibilities, green, red, yellow or speckled, all with the same perfect shape and catchy, wholesome names like Granny Smith, Golden Delicious. They’re seductive, eye-catching, and to grace your presence they must pass more exams than a surgeon. Mis-shapen duds are discarded without mercy by men in shiny wellingtons and lab coats, men who sacrifice their sleep to make sure you never lose any upon being confronted by some monstrous deformity in the grocery section.

It wasn’t always thus, however. While our fiendish western minds may associate Afghanistan with the poppy, the papaver somniferum, it is also the birthplace of the apple. When left to its own devices, the apple is capable of an astounding range of forms: purple, blue, goldenrod and what have you, the gamut is extensive; likewise the sizes, which vary from ping-pong balls to squat, squash-like avatars (with apologies to Vishnu). A multicoloured valley of soaring appletree trunks must be an awesome sight, much like this World Cup (ahem). Yes, for Globocorp’s best efforts and a certain homogenisation in tactics notwithstanding, biodiversity cannot be checked; e’en as the cruel earth seeks to stifle a bubbling spring, it gusheth forth continuously.

Now, as we all know, a lack of variety in any given fruit, tuber or vegetable can leave it open to plague. Despite apparently having approached perfection, all the Golden Delicious in the world could be wiped out one swing of a giant, virulent boot, were the right formula to be found. All that is necessary is for the happy, popular, apparently indomitable fruit’s weaknesses to be found and exposed. One little worm pierces the skin and slides through to the core, guarded only by a lank-haired substitute at the second-best team in Ligue 1, in whose face it guffaws in righteous felony.

Yes, dear reader, the qualifiers ended a long time ago. An excessive, twitch-inducing amount of time has passed since Argentina qualified for Brazil, and even longer since they found their optimum starting eleven in the foundational 2-1 win over Colombia in Barranquilla, with Messi, Aguero, Higuaín and Di María running riot in the second half comeback. Caution was canker in the system; no more hedging their bets, Argentina had to take the game to their opponents and play to their plentiful attacking strengths. A comforting uniformity, a cozy and successful monotony descended on the Selección. A settled enough group, a standard starting eleven, consistent performances and results, a scapegoat, even, it had the steady hum of fluorescent supermarket aisle. Sabella was Granny Smith. And it was great… but oh so long ago, long enough, no doubt for an opposing manager to figure out how to out-play a particular system in what is essentially a final, Van Gaal-style. Now, with Higuaín and Gago having not much more than an hour of football between them in the last six weeks, reports indicate Sabella is going to abandon the usual 4-3-3/4-2-4 in favour of a 5-3-2.

The reasons for this may be illumined by an intriguing little article by Juan Pablo Sorín that went up on canchallena yesterday. He goes through the Bosnian team almost player for player: Misimovic “may look disinterested, with all the hurry of a bum,” but his through balls can be Bochini-esque at times and “he’s one of those guys that lives for assists and gets off on making the killer pass.” Becic, meanwhile, is “like a toll-booth, a barrier from where fresh attacks are launched.” Interesting metaphor from Juampi, who clearly doesn’t like to have coppers clinking in his pockets. The most important part of his analysis, however, and that which Sabella most likely has in mind is the question of the flanks. “Hajrović’s tireless running will cause Rojo trouble and restrict him from getting forward,” he says. “He plays on the right but ¡ojo! he’s left-footed. Plus, he’s been known to shoot from distance, whether from a dead ball or cutting in from the wing.”

The idea that Arg would change their style to accommodate another team made many pundits feel blight had already set in. The suggestion Argentina would play five defenders was akin to admission of a most shameful fear. Moreover, the stats showed Argentina had played 5-3-2 five times under Sabella (in 34 matches) and let in three headers, hence such a tactic would hardly guarantee safety from Džeko and Co. anyway. Plus, it clearly forgot all the good work done previously, shook the stability it had taken so long to achieve.

Tactically similar to Maradona – more offensive, even -, Sabella’s great strength has always been identified as having established a settled squad that runs smoothly. For if Checho wanted to be everyone’s friend, a Walker of the Earth, sending pictures of himself from various confused squad members’ kitchens, Sabella has succeeded admirably in absenting himself and overseeing chaos gently; a slightly distant, green-fingered figure who implanted the idea the Selección was a flattened hierarchy, even if it contained one particularly prized, passive-aggressive orchid. The first bag of cement fell when established squad members such as Banega and Sosa were left out of the 23 owing to their form, while Enzo Perez and Demichelis were included. Now it looks like he plans on building a patio. Everyone already knew Argentina’s weaknesses but shaking things up now would appear to undermine their strengths. Pegamequemgusta has no idea, of course, what chaos will dictate for the curiously-shaped florette coaxed out of Checho Batistenstein’s dead earth, but we’ll most definitely be looking for some opium before long.

* If you’re interested in reading more on the world of plants and fruits, check out Michael Pollan’s The Botany of Desire. It’s great.

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